Connecticut AOSA Workshop Notes

Connecticut AOSAPeter and Mary Alice present *

Teaching Traditional Dance & Singing Games to Children

Saturday, March 7, 2015


THANK YOU: Whitney Perrine, for your months of work to make this happen and for taking such good care of us during our visit, and to all the other volunteers who made this worshop possible.


Sign up on our email mailing list for approximately once-monthly notices about upcoming Amidon workshops and publications.  Just go to the Amidon website and sign up on the homepage:

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MEET OUR BOYS & their ladies:

Stefan singing (with the family last New Year’s Eve)

Stefan on percussion/vocals and his wife (red head) Zara Bode with their band the Sweetback Sisters

Sam singing

Sam fiddling

Sam’s wife Beth Orton 

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 Go to your own local dances; they are fun, welcoming, aerobic, and it will make you a better dance teacher:

There is a lot of community dancing in Connecticut; here is a website covers dancing in the whole state:

and thanks to whomever pointed out to me that some of you came down from Massachusetts: here is a site that covers Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island

And here are some English Country Dance links:

New Haven:

Rhode Island:



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This is the last year Mary Alice and I will be teaching our Hartt Summerterm 3-credit course (Hartt School of Music in West Hartford): “Rich Traditions and New Creations: Dance, Song, Storytelling and Literature in the Music Classroom

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Blaydon Races
in NEDM’s “Chimes of Dunkirk” collection
We used ‘Blaydon Races’ from NEDM’s
2010 Revision of the ‘Chimes of Dunkirk’
CD for this. You can also use any jig or  reel medley for this dance. We did this is a mixer, but you can also do it with younger children without changing partners. We often call this at weddings.  We always start  teaching this, as we do with any circle mixer, by having the dancers promenade and defining the gents/moons/peanut butter/inside partners and the ladies/stars/jelly/outside partners.

The Sun is In My Heart
A Little Seed
These are both simple centering movement chants for young children from NEDM’s (New England Dancing Master’s) “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD collection.

Traffic Jam by John Krumm
Use “Heel and Toe Polka” from the Chimes of Dunkirk CD for this.  This is a GREAT dance to use as an icebreaker for older elementary children.

Kindergarten Reel by Peter Amidon
In NEDM’s “Listen to the Mockingbird” book, but the music is not on the companion CD.  If you would like the “Kindergarten Reel” mp3 of the music, send me an email <> and I will email you the mp3.  Probably the biggest gift chldren get from this dance is learning to move up one place at the end of each sequence of the dance.  Once your Kindergarten students have all gotten to be head couples and learned the sashay-down-and-back-and-cast-off-to-the-bottom figure you can put on any jig or reel, maybe add in a dosido, and voila! they are doing a simple Virginia Reel.

Noble Duke of York
In NEDM’s “Rise Sally Rise” (formerly “Jump Jim Joe”) and “Alabama Gal”.  I have added elements to make this a great dance for older children: the movements everyone does on the sides while the top couple sashays down and back, having all the dancers skipping during the cast off, and doing the dance to the hot band on the CD. We replaced the short cut that was on “Jump Jim Joe” with the longer cut with the lively band in both the “Rise Sally Rise” and “Alabama Gal” accompanying CDs.  If you have “Jump Jim Joe” and would like this newer cut send me an email and I will email the mp3 to you.

Dance Tips
Mittens; front of your mitten on the front of your neighbor’s mitten, thumb lightly on back; take hands drop hands take hands drop hands; posture; teach the forward separately  from the back in the forward and back; shake partner’s hand, hang on, take partner’s left hand for teaching promenade; while promenading: inside person is the moon/peanut butter/gent,  outside is the star/jelly/lady; four steps of making a circle from a  promenade: “Hang on to partner stop walking, hang on to partner face the center, drop hands, take hands.”; dosido (gents start on inside, ladies start going outside) flowing into two hand turn flowing into promenade; when music starts clapping the first of each 8 beats; doing the dance with your hands; “thick” calling, then “thin” calling then no calling; saying the call right before the ‘clap’ or before the first beat of  the phrase and figure.

La Bastringue
in NEDM’s “Chimes of Dunkirk“.  We did it without changing partners.  I have done this with 2nd graders by having them do the two hand turn with hands straight across (not crossed), then “open like a book” and promenade simply holding their partners’ handy hand (lady’s left in gent’s right, simply holding hands while they walk around the circle side by side).

Tree Song by Lorraine Hammond
in NEDM’s “Down in the Valley” collection I introduced this with a story that I made up.  Elements of the story came from this singing game, the singing game ‘Roger is Dead’ (NEDM’s Down in the Valley) and the traditional song ‘Chiney Doll’ (on our  ‘Song in My Heart’ CD). Lorraine Hammond, who composed this wonderful singing game, is a songwriter and musician, and one of the best known  Appalachian dulcimer players in the country.  She lives in the  greater Boston area.  The piano arrangement on the CD is Peter’s and is available as a children’s choir piece for young singers.  We find this to be a calming, centering  dance, both for the children and for ourselves.

Here We Go Riding Our Ponies
In NEDM’s I’m Growing Upbook/CD/DVD. Children practice handshakes and eye contact in this instantly engaging singing game.

Sandy Boys by Mary Alice Amidon
Mary Alice uses the tune ‘Sandy Boys’ as played by the ‘Improbobilities’ which you can get on iTunes. A great early circle partner dance for children.

Larry’s Mixer
In NEDM’s Listen to the Mockingbird”. We used the cut “Cheris” from NEDM’s “Other Side of the Tracks” CD, which is the band “Assembly”, a quartet that includes  our two sons Sam (fiddle) and Stefan (percussion). Also try doing this to “The Coming Dawn” from the same CD, or try “Golden Keyboard” from NEDM’s “Any Jig or Reel” CD.  All of these are flowing music, and I find that this dance can have a sublime “Historic English County Dance” feel (think Jane Austen) when done to those cuts of elegant music.

Form the Corn
In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. This is an instantly engaging singing game for all ages that you can do anytime, anywhere.

Come Along Everybody
In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. We know a music teacher who has her students, when they first walk into her classroom, walk directly into this singing game.

Hop Up, My Ladies by Mary Alice Amidon
Formation: Circle of partners
Music: “Hop Up My Ladies” as sung by Elizabeth Mitchell (we are huge Elizabeth Mitchell fans) on her album “Blue Clouds” (you can purchase this cut on iTunes).
If you ever go to meeting..
March single file to the left.
Don’t mind the weather cause the wind don’t blow.
Clap, clap, stamp stamp stamp on underline words.
Hop up my ladies three in a row…
Hop on the word “Hop”
Don’t mind the weather cause the wind don’t blow.
Clap, clap, stamp stamp stamp on underline words.
Can your horse’a carry double…
Partner two hand turn.
Don’t mind…(as before)
Is your horse a single footer…
Galop to center and back twice.
During the instrumental in the middle of the piece do the marching single file to left figure.
Continue following motions with words as above.

Choosing Partners
We think it is a real gift to children to teach them  how to choose their own partners.  I like to frame this in ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ language to help the children get over their self consciousness over  choosing partners.

I start with a story about how Kings and Queens realized that it might be more fun to dance with more than just their own spouses, and so they needed to devise a polite and efficient way to choose other partners.  “And the method they came up with was so good we still do it today.”

I have them all practice the words: ‘May I please  have this dance?’ ‘Yes thank you.’ and then practice answering me, and then practice  asking me.  Then I demonstrate what it looks like to ask a partner to dance, by asking one of the ‘Queens’.  Then, I have that Queen sit down, and I ask her again, showing the 10 steps: The approach. Eye contact. The question. The answer. King puts out his hand. Queen stands and takes King’s hand. They hang on to each other’s hand and walk to the top of the hall.  If there are  two Queens then there is a Queen on one side and a Queen on the other side.  If there are two Kings (you know the rest). If it is a King and a Queen, the King stands on the King’s side, the Queen on the Queen’s side and they face each other, nose, toes and bellybutton, taking two hands. Then they drop their hands, and, voila, there they are.

Then I have a volunteer Queen ask a King, and when they are finished I have a  volunteer King ask a Queen, and they get in place in the line beside the first King & Queen. Then all ask.  This can be wonderful, and the  children who succeed in doing this can be quite proud of themselves.

Kings & Queens by Peter Amidon
In NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut“.  We used for music “Kings & Queens” (“On the Danforth”) from “Sashay the Donut”.  You can also use another performance of the same tune, “On the Danforth” from NEDM’s CD “Other Side of the Tracks“.  Once the children are lined up with partners I put the music on to set the mood of the dance while I teach it.  I get them in their Royal Posture and then dub each child a king or a queen.

Old Bald Eagle Square
In NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection Andy Davis’s brilliant version of ‘Old Bald Eagle’ is the simplest square we know: a great first square dance for young children.  Try it with the Sashay the Donut CD to Andy’s calls.

Creating an Original Dance
I start with the question: “What is a dance?” A dance starts with a formation (or a shape): longways (line of partners facing each other), circle (partners in circle) or  square (four couples facing in).

There is also the Sicilian Circle formation (couple facing couple around a circle)

And also the concentric circle formation where couples are in a circle with, say, the gents facing out and  the ladies facing in.

Then there are the figures, which is, simply what the dancers do in the dance.  Some obvious figures include some you do with the whole group (let’s say we’re doing a circle mixer)       Forward and back      Circle left, Circle right,       Grand Right and Left         etc.

and figures you do just with your partner (or neighbor)      Right hand turn     Dosido

and some that are a bit of both like      Promenade.

It is OK to have an original figure or two in our original dance, but not too many.  Mostly you should have familiar, common figures that dances can learn quickly.

Once we (or I) decide on a formation, I simply say, “What first.” and do whatever the first person suggests, in our case, “Jump!”.

As the suggestions come in I might invite discussion about which suggestion to choose (if there are more than one).  I try to use as many of the children’s  ideas as possible, and I almost always have the children try out dancing a suggested figure before discussin g it.

Your job is also to facilitate the children creating a dance that is fun to do.  You might make a small suggestion here and there, especially one that might help make a student’s suggestion more successful and flowing.

The children can help figure out how to make the dance fit the AABB of the music.  It is also an option to ignore the AABB and make up a dance that goes across the AABB pattern of the music.

Once you and your students have made up a dance, it is important to name the dance.  This is the same process as making up the dance.  I take in suggestions and facilitate the decision making.  Sometimes we combine the words in two or three different suggestion.  Sometimes we vote on two or three different name candidates.  Sometimes, as  happened with us, someone comes up with a suggestion so inspired that I declare it the official name by acclamation.

When students create their own dance, they really take ownership of it.

Central Skipping Sock Scrambler created by participants in the March 2015 CT AOSA workshop with the Amidons.
This is a really wonderful dance you have come up with.  Note that if I had tried to TEACH you this dance, it would have been much more challenging to learn.  But because we were all making it up together, we were all able to master it much more quickly.  You will probably find the same thing with your students; when they make up a dance they are likely to come up with some pretty sophisticated choreography that they will master more quickly than if you had taught it to them from scratch.

Use a three-part tune (AABBCC) like: “Quadrille Joe Bouchard” on the “Sashay the Donut” CD or “Reel de Rimouski” on the “Other Side of the Tracks” CD.

A1: Promenade partner (8)      Take hands in a circle and go forward and back (8)
A2: Promenade partner (8)
See saw partner (8)
B1: All single file skip to the right (CCW) (8)
See saw neighbor (8)
B2: All single file skip to the left (CW) (8)
Swing (right elbow turn) partner.
C1/C2: All clap clap clap, stamp stamp stamp, clap clap clap, stamp stamp stamp (8)
Grand right and left: Partner by right, left by next, right by next, allemand left next, changing directing (now going back the way you came) pull past one person by the right hand and promenade the next person you meet (ladies keep walking, gents change direction). (12)

Sicilian Vowel Dance
In NEDM’s “Sashay the Donut” collection We used ‘Golden Keyboard’ (actually, the piano only comes in at the end of the cut) from NEDM’s ‘Any Jig or Reel’ for this. Do this with 5th or 6th graders who have a fair amount of dance experience, and who have already learned the grand right and left (‘Lucky Seven’ from our Chimes of Dunkirk collection is a good teaching dance for the Grand Right and Left figure). You should have at least 20 dancers (five groups of four) to do this dance; 24 or more is even better.  It can work at a community dance if you have all the younger children dance with an adult or older experienced child partner. The main teaching point is, once folks are in the formation of couple facing couple (Sicilian circle formation), having everyone point to the left.  Those pointing to the inside of the circle say “I go inside first.” Those pointing to the outside say, “I go outside first.” That is the direction they start going  when they do the big, no hands, stay-with-partner grand right and left.

Bye Bye Butterfly
In NEDM’s “I’m Growing Up” book/CD/DVD. Mary Alice learned this chant (add your own motions) from a Kindergarten student.

Circle Waltz Mixer
In NEDM’s  ‘Sashay the Donut’ collection. We used ‘In Continental’ Waltz from the ‘Sashay’ CD  for the music. This is a wonderful dance for a wedding  where you can do it the original way we learned it, doing  a short waltz instead of the two hand turn.  In the original  dance gents are the “rocks” and women are the “twirlers”, but it works perfectly fine in a non-gender community  dance with a two hand turn.  Here are some tips to for teaching this dance:
Start by having everyone promenade. Tell all the inside (left hand) partners they are “rocks” and all the outside (right hand) partners they are “twirlers”.
All look at partner and say “goodbye”.
Rocks stay in place and keep their feet planted during the “twirl” figure.
Carefully teach the first “twirl” each “Rock” does with their left hand neighbor, from left to right.
Once the dancers get that twirl, the rest of the dance can go pretty smoothly.
I do this dance with 2nd graders by replacing the two hand turn with a sloooooow bow to partner and then open like a book, take hands in a circle and get ready to start again.

We had such a wonderful time with all of you today.  Thank you.


Peter (and Mary Alice)